Transgender Art, Community and Culture In Miami

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By: Ian Maloney

For centuries, many in the LGBTQ community have found their calling in the arts. For one reason or another, marginalized groups have been welcome in communities where art flourishes. However, nationwide, there is a scarcity of places that give voice to the transgender community, one of the most marginalized groups in our country. Luckily, Miami is home to a bustling transgender art community and to a host of organizations that often work in tandem to foster the arts as well as support the trans community at large. Our city may be considered the epicenter of “Art Culture” in the U.S. thanks to our famous Miami Art Week and shows like Art Basel and UNTITLED Miami Beach which has set the stage for it to welcome trans art with open arms.

Since 2014, Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida has sponsored TRANSART, a weekend long festival highlighting transgender art in various forms. The festival is the first ever juried art exhibition and conference featuring international transgender artists and their works. It was created and envisioned by Trans-Miami founder & Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida board member Aryah Lester and Deborah Plutzik-Briggs, Vice President for Marketing and Philanthropy at The Betsy-South Beach.

Lester feels that, “TRANSART came about from the spirit of South Florida collaboration. As a trans woman of color with many talents, I looked for non-traditional ways to elevate my community and create possibilities through artistic expression.” She added, “Transgender and gender-nonconforming persons are already beset with the challenges of scarce employment, homelessness, and violence. The struggles of living a gender-varied life within a gender binary system seems alien and detached for most. TRANSART bridges that gap with understanding and empathy translated through artists' work. The festival creates an environment in the art and culture rich scenes in Miami, for talented artists to be showcased and given positive visibility in a world where they are often forgotten or erased. Miami has become an international hub for the arts and its enthusiasts, creating the perfect place for this historic conference.”

When asked about the impact of this festival, Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida’s Executive Director, Herb Sosa, said, “Our ability to showcase such talents and possibilities itself, is a catalyst for many to see their own potential. We have several artists who began to explore their talents as a result of coming to previous TRANSART events, and have gone on to apply and be accepted as exhibitors - this makes us very proud and hopeful for the state of the trans art community in South Florida.”

The 2019 TRANSART festival was held at the Villain Theater in Little Haiti, which is at the forefront of fostering the trans artist community in Miami. Not only did they provide the home for the 2019 TRANSART festival, the theater is also home to YAAS!, Florida’s only LGBTQ Improv ensemble, which is featured in the weekly Friday night show, TGIF. Check out their website for show times and a preview of the great work they are doing to not only support the trans community, but to highlight the beautiful culture of Little Haiti.

Another organization highlighting the art and artists within Miami’s transgender community is The Pioneer Winter Collective. The collective’s “Project LEAP” (Leaders of Equality through Arts and Performance) gives the LGBTQ community, especially the youth, a way to connect with dance and provide both artists and youth a safe space to be creative. This avant-garde company founded by Miamian, Pioneer Winter, a choreographer who has master’s degrees in dance and choreography as well as public health and epidemiology and is dedicated to “democratizing performance through unexpected bodies, unexpected places, and unexpected social change.” The collective is a natural home to trans artists. One of the featured performers, June Romero, is a trans woman and professional actress who, like Winter, is a Miami native.

Other organizations like Pridelines, Miami’s LGBTQ community center, as well as Miami Beach Pride (which dropped the “Gay” from its title to be more inclusive) have art themed events that, while not specifically for the trans community, are places where trans voices are heard and supported. Pridelines has a queer youth arts night every Wednesday at their community center and Miami Beach Pride features a free community event at the Perez Art Museum Miami. The event will take place on April 4, 2019 at 7 p.m. Pridelines also provides wrap around services to the trans community as well as the rest of the LGBTQ community and their calendar is packed with events to bring everyone together.

Art and artists have often led social change and it is no different within the trans community. All year long, great art can be found coming from trans artists across Miami and it is important to celebrate them and to give voice to the issues that trans people face and make a difference.

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